Proposed upgrades to the Elouera Centre in Cootamundra are tipped to expand the possibilities for disabled care and improve the quality of life for numerous local residents.
With an ever-increasing focus on inclusivity through the NSW government’s National Disability Strategy (2010-2020), Elouera workers are hoping to transform an underutilised car park into a tactile outdoors entertainment area for centre patrons.
It seems a simple task but the potential for disabled persons to safely spend time outside and participate in new activities is one that brings untold benefits for the community.
“We’ve always had this unwanted space used for parking cars and we just thought we needed an outdoor area for the guys,” said staff member Drew Hibbert.
“As we’re growing in numbers, we need somewhere in summertime for them to come out and be in the sun.
“It’s so important for them to have this area and be able to safely participate in outdoor events.”
Mr Hibbert said the muddy car park would be transformed into a tactile patio and garden space in which people could “enjoy activities … such as gardening and having barbecues”.
“The plan is to have a deck, some astro turf, raised garden beds … even some latticework with vines running through it.
“We want nice plants, a patio heater and maybe a small water feature too – it’s going to be a great little area.”
International research studies conducted across the University of Michigan and Stanford University have found regular interactions with nature and the outdoors can improve relaxation, cognitive function, memory retention, and attention to detail.
Mr Hibbert hopes to simulate these mental health benefits with a well-designed tactile space in their own backyard.
“We want to create a safe space that’s comfortable and stimulating,” he said
“With many of our guys having autism and similar conditions, it’s important to have that sensory appeal – that ability to touch, smell and feel things.”
Other centres around Cootamundra have lent their support to the project, with Elouera staffer Cathy Ashcroft taking care to applaud the camaraderie displayed in assisting fundraising for the project.
“One of the prizes from our raffle was a picnic bench made out of old palettes that were then taken apart, sanded off and pieced back together by workers at the Cootamundra Men’s Shed,” she said.
“It’s been a great team effort and every dollar towards our project helps.